IntroductionThe Greater Kafue Ecosystem (GKE) is home to Zambia’s largest wild dog and cheetah populations, the second-largest lion and leopard populations, as well as the most diverse antelope populations in the region. It is therefore essential that key data and conservation actions are provided for previously undescribed and threatened large carnivore species and their prey.
This includes studying the main threats to both carnivores and herbivores in the GKE, as well as ensuring the ongoing sustainability of conservation efforts through education and capacity building.
Researcher: Dr Matthew BeckerCountry: Kafue National Park, Zambia
Partner Organisations: Zambia Wildlife Authority, National Geographic, WWF, Panthera, Treetops School, The Nature Conservancy and Game Rangers International.
BackgroundDespite its massive size and connectivity to the Kavango-Zambezi (KAZA) Transfrontier Conservation Area, the GKE is seriously threatened by an array of human activities. These include poaching, human encroachment in the form of agriculture and charcoal, and poorly-regulated trophy hunting.
To address key components of the Regional and National Conservation Action Plans for wild dog, cheetah and lion, the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) initiated long-term carnivore research in 2011 on wild dog and cheetah. Later, this work was expanded to the Kafue Lion Project’s research in 2014, as well as a number of research projects on poaching, human encroachment and other landscape-level work in collaboration with Panthera’s Cheetah Programme.
Since ZCP’s inception, it has employed the only field-based veterinary presence in the GKE, primarily led by Dr Wigganson Matandiko (former ZAWA veterinary head and currently a ZCP PhD student), before training and employing Dr Kambwiri Banda.
Collectively, these efforts have resulted in the de-snaring of dozens of large carnivores, facilitated (particularly in the case of wild dogs) by ongoing research on radio-collared groups.
In addition, the need for skilled and knowledgeable Zambian wildlife professionals to guide the country’s conservation management has never been greater, and ZCP has led the way by training, educating and employing all of the country’s large carnivore specialists in collaboration with the Zambia Wildlife Authority (ZAWA). In concert, this work provides some of the only science-based guidance and conservation for the GKE.
ObjectivesThe main objectives for this project are:
- 1Provide key data on large carnivore populations and their prey, as well as threats to them.
- Address key threats to large carnivores, their prey and habitat.
- Ensure the sustainability of conservation efforts through education and capacity building.
MethodologyData is collected through intensive studies of individuals. Methods include mark-resight studies, ground and aerial telemetry, hunt follows, gathering faecal, tissue, blood and hair samples from immobilised animals and carcasses, distance sampling methods for line transect herbivore studies, and mark-resight and occupancy-modelling for camera trapping studies.
Key threats are being established through darting and the treatment of snared large carnivores and herbivores. Other methods include remote sensing and “ground-truthing” of encroachment areas in the GMAs and parks, the study of bushmeat drivers, trends and impacts, surveys of herbivores and carnivores across protected areas gradients, as well as working with policy makers and stakeholders to change conservation models and policy directions if required.
Special presentations and programmes will be conducted for students from Treetops School, in order to better educate surrounding communities on conservation, while the project will continue to employ students and graduates from Copperbelt University, University of Zambia and Mulungushi University in its Conservation Biologist Training Programme. It will also continue to support training and the advanced education of ZAWA scouts, wildlife veterinary students and ZAWA vets and support the graduate research of Zambian students.
Annual Report, February 2016
During the latter half of the dry season, work continued on the three components funded by the Wilderness Trust, namely:
1. Providing key data on large carnivore populations and their prey, as well as threats to them
2. Addressing key threats to large carnivores, their prey and habitat
3. Ensuring sustainability of conservation efforts through education and capacity building
Populations of lion, wild dog and cheetah were intensively researched, and camera surveys of leopard and their prey continued. Together with NGO Panthera’s cheetah programme, the project continued to build on the known number of cheetah and wild dog in the Greater Kafue ecosystem and the factors affecting them. Aerial support was critical for this work.
Snaring likely increased in 2015, and herbivore analyses demonstrated probable impacts of bushmeat poaching and associated human encroachment. Analyses of human encroachment throughout the Zambian KAZA system were completed for conservation planning. The project continued with weekly programmes for students visiting TreeTops Educational Centre and employed a former Conservation Club student from ZCP’s secondary school programmes who underwent its intensive Conservation Biologist Training Programme.
Zambian Ph.D. student, Dr Wigganson Matandiko, continued analyses on the environmental, biological and human factors affecting ungulate distribution and abundance. Dr Kambwiri Banda excelled as a local wildlife vet, darting an array of carnivores and receiving training on large herbivores, and special training on snared elephants.
During the latter half of the 2015 dry season the Zambian Carnivore Programme (ZCP) continued work on the three components of its Wilderness Trust funding, namely:
1. To provide key data on large carnivore populations and their prey, as well as their threats
2. To address key threats to large carnivores, their prey and habitat
3. To ensure the sustainability of its conservation efforts through education and capacity-building
1. The ZCP intensively monitored nine lion prides and seven coalitions (totalling 64 lions in Northern Kafue National Park). Wild dog continued to exhibit different dynamics in 2015 with the resident packs largely disbanded following snaring incidents in late 2014 and early 2015. New packs formed, several of which were far from any road and required aerial support and extensive trips into roadless areas to locate them and confirm they were snare-free. Aerial support was critical for all species given that the various groups ranged over sometimes thousands of square kilometres and WT funding was critical in providing multiple flights.
Intensive predator-prey studies continued, with a focus on puku and impala and we fitted a male cheetah with our first GPS collar as part of our cheetah work. Together with Panthera’s cheetah programme we continued to build on the known number of cheetah in the Greater Kafue ecosystem and the factors affecting them. We continued camera trapping surveys in Northern Kafue NP focusing on leopards and their prey.
2. Of concern this year was the discovery of three dead lion in the Busanga Plains, including one with skull and paws removed. It is thought that they were snaring by-catch but we are collaboratively investigating the potential for a lion bone trade in the region. In addition we attended a joint meeting with Wilderness Safaris, ZAWA, GRI and other operators to address lion declines in the Busanga. ZCP has committed to upgrading the communications system in northern Kafue to improve anti-poaching and is currently sourcing funds for repeaters and has obtained HF radios and chargers to be provided to ZAWA patrols in 2016. Detections of snared carnivores declined in late 2016, though it is unlikely snaring declined; analyses of three years of herbivore distribution and abundance demonstrated a noticeable human impact from the park boundaries likely due to bushmeat poaching and associated human encroachment. We completed our analyses of human encroachment throughout the Zambian KAZA system and this will be utilised in conservation planning. We also attended a week-long conference in Hwange National Park on building a KAZA Carnivore Coalition for protection of the KAZA landscape; rehabilitating Kafue National Park and the KAZA corridors to the south were identified as priority actions for Zambian KAZA and funding is currently being sought.
3. We continued to provide weekly programmes to students visiting TreeTops Educational Center during the season, describing our work and the conservation issues facing Kafue and Zambia. We also employed a former Conservation Club student from ZCP’s secondary school programmes who underwent our intensive Conservation Biologist Training Programme to become eligible: Lameck Sakala began work as a full-term researcher on the Kafue team in late 2015. Zambian PhD student Dr Wigganson Matandiko successfully completed his comprehensive exams at Montana State University and is currently finalising his analyses on the environmental, biological and human factors affecting ungulate distribution and abundance in Northern Kafue. Dr Kambwiri Banda continued to excel as our Zambian wildlife vet, darting an array of carnivores and receiving training from ZCP and collaborating staff on all species as well as large herbivores; he also received special training on elephants in late 2015 from the South Luangwa Conservation Society.